With Oscar season once again utterly unavoidable, it’s time to talk about entertainment and the entertainment industry.

All civilisations have their own form of entertainment, whether that be television and movies, to Star Trek‘s holodecks in more technologically advanced societies, to simple campfire stories, mummer’s plays, and that moon in Firefly where they juggle geese. What kinds of entertainment you build into your world is very telling about how that culture works, and is well worth us examining it here.

Now, it goes without saying that these things depend to a large extent on what kinds of technology is available at the time; the feudal peasantry clustered around a 50″ flatscreen is an entertaining image, but unless there’s a good story reason for that to be the case, it simply doesn’t fit, and a poor fit here will simply make your story feel unrealistic. It should be reasonably obvious whether your faux-mediæval society have access to a particular technology or not, but why shouldn’t your advanced technological society still enjoy blood-sports and camp-fire stories if that’s the feel you’re aiming for?

Example: The Jalassian Expansion is a civilisation of peace. Crime rates are at an all-time low, and support of the Conclave is at an all-time high. The productive citizens can go about their lives in peace and harmony, finishing their work schedules and enjoying the nightly broadcasts of the Holy Stories with their families.Later, many of the adult members choose to watch the Confessions of the Wicked before bed, to guide them on their path away from sin.

Here we see a strictly religious society, where all (or at least most) entertainment appears to have a religious bent. Not only that, but it strictly reinforces religious attitudes and beliefs, and we can see parallels with the “passion plays” of early modern Christianity.

Not only does this reinforce religious attitudes, but it seems purposefully designed as a tool of fear; there seems to be a very deliberate implication of the penalties for straying from the religious path, one which appears to be instrumental in maintaining order and government support. There is a further implication here that the government is responsible for broadcasting this entertainment, and for designing its content. We could apply this line of message masquerading as entertainment to any derided group in society; the poor, the outsiders, the political opposition.

This is another interesting perspective; not only does the content of the entertainment tell you a lot more about the attitudes and values of a society than does the medium, but so does the person or people in charge of it.

Example: Each night Kirania’s farmers and workers visit the Circle. Here they drink, they talk, they socialise, and they are entertained. Sometimes it’s jugglers, sometimes singers or acrobats, sometimes mummers offering tales of heroics and chivalry – and sometimes, if they are not discovered in their travels and arrested, it might be the Eyes. The nobility hate the Eyes, they claim to see the truth; they mock them and show them for the flawed humans they are. No matter how hard the nobility try, though, the Eyes still perform where they are least expected.

So here we see a society in which the entertainment is mostly mindless, colourful displays, seemingly designed deliberately to keep the peasantry contented with their lot. On the other side of this system is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, however; entertainment critical of the powerful players in society is welcomed, but strictly punished.

Again this tells us something about the nature of this society; that the nobility is scared that they have a fragile grip on power, that entertainment that shows them in an unflattering light could destabilise the system. What might the nobles do to combat this? Aside from locking up the Eyes, they might fund other performing groups, to emphasise the strength and wisdom of the nobility, perhaps, else to impersonate and discredit the Eyes.

What are the popular forms of entertainment in your fictional world, and what do they say about its culture?